The Nature and Extent of Juvenile Delinquency
Theories of Juvenile Delinquency
Causes of Juvenile Delinquency
The Control and Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency
Juvenile Delinquency in America
Juvenile delinquency has been ranked as one of the most serious problems facing the United States today. It has become a national problem, as opposed to being restricted to the large cities. The nature of juvenile delinquency has changed over time such that the delinquent activities being engaged in by the juveniles have changed over the years. The relevant juvenile justice agents have attempted to prevent and control this vice. However, it seems like more still needs to be done are the methods that have been employed have not yielded the desired results. (Muraskin & Roberts, 2005)
There is no universally accepted definition and approach of addressing juvenile delinquency. For instance, to the criminologists, juvenile delinquency entails all public wrongs committed by the young between the ages of 12 and 20. Sociologists take a broader approach since they postulate that delinquency includes many violations of legal and social norms, including minor offences, serious crimes, committed by juveniles. The sociologists the specifics of youth deviant behavior with the home, peers, family, neighborhood, as well as other variables which, influence the formation of young people’s social environment. It is against this backdrop that this paper seeks to delve into the issue of juvenile delinquency by looking at its causes, prevention, control and the way forward. (Muraskin & Roberts, 2005)
The Nature and Extent of Juvenile Delinquency
A juvenile delinquent is a person who is under age, usually below 18, who is found to have committed a crime in states which have declared by law that a minor lacks responsibility and thus may not be sentenced as an adult. However, the legislatures of several states have reduced the age of criminal responsibility for serious crimes or for repeat offenders to as low as 14. As such juvenile delinquency is referred to the criminal acts committed by such persons. Juvenile deviance is antisocial behavior by youths including status offences and delinquent acts. Status offenses are violations of laws exclusively governing juvenile behavior. Delinquent acts are behaviors that would be criminal if juveniles were tried as adults. (Willett, 2011)
A Profile of Juvenile Deviance consists of Inception, Progression, and Outcome. This helps to identify features of youthful of youthful antisocial behavior to outline the theoretical progression from juvenile delinquency to adult criminality. As regards inception, research has proven that there is a relationship between early inception of delinquency and later adult criminality. Consequently, those who start breaking the law at an older age are less likely to continue committing offenses. As regards progression, chronic or habitual juvenile delinquency is closely related with the age of inception without due association with increased incidence or specialization in certain offences. As such the age of inception affects habitual continuation of committing delinquent acts but it does not necessarily accelerate in the numbers of all offences or developing expertise. Juvenile delinquents constitute a majority number of adult criminals as they do not overcome idiosyncratic and environmental factors that led them to engage in deviant behavior. They, therefore, accept the deviant lifestyle thus becoming career criminals. (Willett, 2011)
Juvenile delinquency is a counterpart of adult crime and to that extent they share some similarities. It, however, differs in terms of the rules, terminologies and focus applicable to cushion them from the stigmatization related to being a criminal. For instance, juvenile defendants are taken into custody as opposed to being arrested. They commit a delinquent act as opposed to a crime and they face adjudication, as opposed to a trial. Further, they are not found guilty but are rather adjudicated delinquent. The juvenile justice system traces its origin from 1899 when the first court under it was established. This system is awake to the fact that the levels of maturity and the degrees of responsibility of minors differ from that of adults. Consequently, the system seeks to rehabilitate the juvenile offenders rather than to punish them as is the case with adult offenders. (Willett, 2011)
Statistics estimate the number of juvenile delinquents to be at 75 million in The United States today. The number is estimated to rise with time. These statistics notwithstanding, the juvenile violent rate index has gone down this year. It has been postulated that boys are five times more likely to become juvenile delinquents than girls. Further, research shows that juvenile crimes mostly occur usually at after dark, between 7 pm and 9 pm whether or not it is a school day. (Willett, 2011)
Theories of Juvenile Delinquency
Various theories of causation of juvenile delinquency have been advanced by the different fields of study and different scholars even as early as during the medieval times. The theories include the early theories, classical school theories, biological theories, psychological theories, sociological theories, critical theory. Biological theories deal with physical qualities and causation, psychological theories deal with the mind and causation. Sociological theories deal with society and causation and the critical theory deals with the impact of injustice. There is no single theory of causation that enjoys universal acceptance and none covers all aspects of deviance. (Burfeind, Burfeind, Bartusch, 2011)
The early theories of delinquency and crime were based on superstition and myth as informed by spiritualism and naturalism. It was thus believed that human criminality resulted from the offender’s connection with nature-based influences or supernatural powers. Offences were thus considered as spiritual sins or crimes against natural order thus punishment was sanctioned by nature or divine power. Naturalism and demonology theories fall under this category. Naturalism postulates that human affairs are linked to the natural world and as such the human fortunes and passions are affected by the sun and the moon just like the tides are. It was thus argued that humans are to develop the understanding and interpretation of how the forces of nature work. For instance, the Greeks believed that virtuous people are good, and they stood naked in court for the court officers to analyze their virtues.
Demonology perceived criminal behavior including delinquency as a product of conflicting ideas of evil creatures and deities in charge of order and goodness. This was based on the belief that evil creatures had a strong influence over humans to the extent of possessing and making them commit offences.
Theories of the classical school are based on choice and responsibility. They were developed during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, through the application of scientific methods to explain deviant behavior. Its proponents included CesareBeccaria and Jeremy Bentham. The theorists emphasized on personal responsibility of one’s behavior while rejecting the early theories of crime and delinquency. They emphasize on crime and free will theories of criminal causation. they perceive deviant behavior as a product of individual rational choice that is based on the human desire for pleasure and an aversion for pain. These theorists thus argue that offenders should be personally held accountable and punished accordingly, for their criminal and delinquent acts. They further argue that the offender enjoys pleasure or a benefit from the criminal behavior. The society must develop policies to increase the costs for the benefit to accord the offender more pain.
Biological theories focus on physical qualities and causation while looking at the inherited physical traits on human behavior. They postulate that people can inherently be criminals as they are born with such physical qualities as genetic, biological and biochemical profiles that govern the deviant tendencies that they possess. Biological theories include an honest appearance (physiognomy), bumps on the head (phrenology), evolutionary primitiveness (atavism), the bad seed (heredity), and body types (somatotyping).
Physiognomy encompasses the concept of an ‘honest face’ or an ‘evil face’ as perceived by humans since time immemorial. Moral character could be deduced from facial characteristics and as such it is alleged that receding foreheads, jutting jawbones, protruding eyebrows, sinister noses are deemed to be deviance indicators. Phrenology is a variation of the foregoing theory, and it postulates that human behavior is determinant on bodily functions and secretions emanating from such organs as the stomach, kidneys, heart, spleen, and other organs. The theory further postulates that the brain is the source of all personality including the deviant one based on the head shapes with lumps, bumps, indentations, protuberances, and other cranial features. Scientists then used brain maps to establish criminal or delinquent skull shapes.
Atavism as established by Cesare Lombroso deals with evolutionary primitiveness. it analyzes the physical anomalies present at birth and identifies criminals as early as at birth. However, the anomalies do not determine criminality but rather they indicate criminal disposition. It is argued by the theorist that criminals are less developed individuals in terms of intellect as compared to modern humans. Therefore, criminals are considered to possess atavism characteristics evidenced with uncivilized criminal dispositions. Atavism is attributed to such traits as bent noses, high cheekbones, lack of earlobes, prominent lips, elongated arms and jutting jaws. It was noted that not all criminals exhibit these physical features, since biology and life experiences combined may trigger some people to become criminals. This culminated into the positivist school of criminology which holds that human behavior including deviant behavior can be affected by biological, societal, and environmental factors.